“The Nearest Approach to Freedom and Equality”: African Americans in Antebellum New Bedford

Earl F. Mulderink III

in New Bedford's Civil War

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780823243341
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823243389 | DOI:

Series: The North's Civil War (FUP)

“The Nearest Approach to Freedom and Equality”: African Americans in Antebellum New Bedford

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The former fugitive slave Frederick Douglass recalled that his one-time home of New Bedford had offered the “nearest approach to freedom and equality that [he] had ever seen.” Its magnetic pull for southern-born blacks was illustrated by a dozen fugitive slave narratives, including Douglass's Narrative. African Americans enjoyed a relatively privileged position throughout the antebellum era as they created their own organizations, participated in political events of the day, and stepped into public roles tied to growing antislavery sentiment. This chapter focuses on the experiences of black residents of New Bedford, some of them fugitive slaves like Douglas who lived in the city from 1838 to 1841. During the Civil War, Douglass visited New Bedford numerous times to join forces with whites and blacks in calling for black military enlistment and emancipatory war aims. The chapter also discusses New Bedford's demographics and economic opportunities, African Americans' autonomy and religious life, how the city's black churches and church memberships contributed to the escalating antislavery crusade, and increased military by New Bedford's black leaders and community members in the 1850s.

Keywords: New Bedford; fugitive slaves; Frederick Douglass; African Americans; Civil War; demographics; autonomy; religious life; militancy; antislavery

Chapter.  8312 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Military History

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